Believing the works of previous Indian artists to be overly sentimental, Francis Newton Souza looked to Western Modernism for inspiration on how to radicalize and shock the South Asian art world, founding the legendary Bombay Progressives Artists Group in 1947. A master of line, Souza's forays into the human form are well documented and his works successfully explore a wide range of physiognomies from the most sublime of female nudes to riotous and tortured figural forms.
Living in London from 1949 to 1967, Souza often visited the National Gallery, developing a deep appreciation for the work of Rembrandt, Vermeer and most notably Francisco De Goya. Exposed to Goya's famous Pinturas Negras, or black paintings, executed in the final tumultuous years of the Spanish artist's lifetime, Souza, possibly in a reaction to these works, embarked on his own series of all black canvases. Painting these during the mid 1960s, a time in which the artist was suffering severe financial difficulties, drinking heavily, and had begun to lose the favor of his critics whom had previously praised him, the works emerged as a stark and poignant testimony to both Souza's personal state and his feelings on the state of art in general. The choice of all black was courageous as it both made creating the work technically more difficult while simultaneously mocking the commercial viability of paintings in general, sacrificing the popular and the publishable, as these works are notoriously difficult to reproduce in print, for the profound. Shortly after finishing the small group of these black works, Souza, frustrated with his life in England, moved to New York. Many critics have suggested Souza's black paintings are the climax of a period of intense artistic creativity for the artist, their monotone palette focusing attention on Souza's mastery of line and impasto, while providing a clear and unmediated window into the troubled soul of the painter.